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Glitches in new parking fee system causes confusion at county parks

Pay stations are at Hudson Beach now as Pasco County begins charging a $2 parking fee per vehicle at area parks.

Photos by BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Pay stations are at Hudson Beach now as Pasco County begins charging a $2 parking fee per vehicle at area parks.

HUDSON BEACH — On his day at the beach this week, Dale Cramer read the new how-to-pay-for-parking directions posted in the sand. Paying the $2 was easier said than done.

Visitors are supposed to put their money in an envelope, tear off the attached daily pass and hang it on their mirror. Except the glue you need to seal the envelope is on the daily pass.

And where are you supposed to put the envelope holding your cash, anyway?

"Kind of nutty," he said.

He eventually noticed a nearby unmarked silver canister, which seemed disguised as a trash can with a narrow slit. Cramer, of Zephyrhills, shrugged and slid in his envelope.

Cramer may have been confused about how to pay the $2 parking fee that went into effect this week, but at least he did it.

Lunchtime counts of cars parked at Hudson Beach this week showed only a handful displayed the hangars showing they had paid. A county parks worker was hustling from car to car, leaving yellow "reminders" to pay envelopes.

Pasco Parks and Recreation Director Rick Buckman said Tuesday that the county is still working out the kinks of the new system, part of the new parks fees expected to raise nearly $877,000 this year to supplement declining property tax revenue.

Buckman said the vendor printing the envelopes made a mistake by making it impossible to seal the envelope and has agreed to fix the problem. He added that county workers would put "pay here" stickers on the unmarked payment canisters.

He said the priority now is informing park visitors about the new charge — not hitting them with parking tickets, which sheriff's deputies can write, or ordinance violations, which parks workers can write. Those fines can range from $20 to $35.

"We need the revenue but we don't want to cause a bunch of problems," said Buckman. "We're trying to inform them first."

He said most park users have so far been understanding, especially after workers tell them the county's dilemma: Either raise more money or make drastic cuts, including closing parks on certain days.

"It will be enforced at some point, whether it's us or the sheriff," he said. "Ninety percent of the people, they may not be happy, but they understand."

Hudson Beach has been the most controversial parking spot, primarily because some business owners say their customers will be turned off by the $2 charge for county spaces. Two commissioners, Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano, recently tried to get Hudson Beach exempted from the list of parks but did not get support from the rest of the board.

This week, Joseph Muscolino, a 71-year-old retiree, joined the other group of Hudson Beach regulars under the picnic shelter. He has paid $60 for an annual parking pass — a price he says is reasonable given the number of days he visits the park.

"Other counties have been doing it," he said. "The $60 doesn't bother me."

But Muscolino predicted others won't be as willing to pay. "There's going to be a lot of people trying to beat it," he said.

Commissioners have discussed cutting off enforcement at sunset, so people who are coming only for a short period to the coastal parks do not have to pay. That would also alleviate concerns by the three Hudson Beach restaurants that some of their dinner customers would end up having to pay to park.

Buckman said that since commissioners have never voted to ease enforcement at sundown, his department will enforce the fees during park hours, most of which are dawn to dusk. In practice, though, it's not a given that Hudson Beach visitors will be charged close to sunset. Limited parks staff, he said, will likely focus their evening efforts in the larger parks as opposed to coastal parks.

"I can't say no, but I would generally say not too often," Buckman said of evening enforcement at Hudson Beach. "Unless a deputy happens to be there."

Jean Zilinski, 82, of Hudson, was eating lunch this week at Sam's, the busiest Hudson Beach restaurant, with her two daughters Tuesday. She said she thinks other seniors, who like to pay occasional visits to eat lunch or play chess, would stay home rather than pay the fee.

Her daughter, Bonnie Ecklund, said they'd happened to get one of Sam's private parking spaces. "If we hadn't," said Ecklund, "we would've gone somewhere else."

Jeanine Dempsey, 45, and her boyfriend Elden Johnson, 47, showed up at the beach Tuesday afternoon to eat lunch on Johnson's break from a nearby garage, where he works as a mechanic. They stopped in their tracks, however, when they saw the new sign. They read the directions out loud and shook their heads.

"We come a half-hour here for lunch every day," said Dempsey.

They said they couldn't pay the $2 on a regular basis, and Johnson said with only his income — Dempsey is on disability — they could not afford the $60, either.

"This ruins it," he said.

Dempsey was tired of talking. "I want to get out of here," she said, "before they write me up." They got back in their car and drove away.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pay to park

It now costs $2 to park at 11 county parks:

• Anclote River Park

• Anclote Gulf Park

• Crews Lake Park

• Eagle Point Park

• Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park

• Key Vista Nature Park

• Moon Lake Park

• Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park (better known as Hudson Beach)

• Robert K. Rees Park

• Suncoast Parkway Trail Head

• Withlacoochee River Park

Residents have the option of purchasing a $60 annual parking pass. County officials also created a $5 boat launching fee at Hudson Beach, added a $10 fee for children who play in co-sponsored youth leagues and increased fees for camping and adult softball leagues.

Glitches in new parking fee system causes confusion at county parks 11/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 5:55pm]
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